The holiday season is fast approaching! The holidays are usually a time when people binge out on as much unhealthy food as they can, only to follow that up with cringeworthy new year’s resolutions, that go forgotten a week or two later. It does not have to be like this. In this post I will share with you the things I do to keep the weight off year-round and end the vicious binge and purge food cycle during the holidays.
I know too well the extreme lengths people will go to in order to lose weight. I have seen this first hand in the cycling community. Cyclist are known to be pedantic about their weight. Former professional cyclist, Tyler Hamilton, once said that he reached a point where he would be sitting with family members at a dinner table and when they were not looking, he would spit out balls of food into a napkin. He even said that he got so skinny he could feel the bones in his ass when he sat down! A lot of cyclists are like this. They are maybe not trying to lose weight to that extreme, but I have seen similar efforts being made even in the amateur ranks of the sport.
Why am I telling you this? Well, let me explain. I am fortunate enough to have found a formula that works for me. It has allowed me to stay at a stable body weight year round without having to worry about gaining weight in the “off-season” or holiday time, only to try and lose it again a month later. I believe this formula can help you with your weight loss struggles. It is not a magic formula. In fact, there are a lot of science out there on this topic. Also, it does not matter if you are a cyclist or not… anyone can benefit from this advice.
How to stay skinny in the holiday season
Here are the 5 tips that I will use to stay skinny this holiday season and year round!
5. Eat a sufficient amount of calories
Starving does not help. Calorie restricting weight loss programs do not help. You probably already know this. How many times have you gone on a “weight loss program” only to gain the weight back as soon as it is over? Diet programs that force you to starve yourself and restrict your calorie intake do not work, because they are not sustainable. If you want to know if a weight loss program will be successful, you have to ask yourself if you can do it for the rest of your life. If the answer is “no” then you might as well stop right now. You might “succeed” in the sense that you will finish the 1 or 2 week weight loss program. I will guarantee that you will even lose a few pounds and think “Wow, this is amazing!” The problem is that as soon as the program finishes, you will gain all the weight back and more. The reason you will gain even more weight than what you lost, is because your metabolism is trying to recovery from the damage done to it. This is the vicious binge and purge cycle I mentioned above.
Here it the most simplified version of the process I am talking about:
- Lose weight by starving yourself.
- Gain all the weight back and more when you stop starving yourself.
- Repeat step 1
- Repeat step 2
- I am sure you get the point.
Starving yourself is not a good idea. When you do that you actually teach your body to hold on to fat! Your body goes into a type of survival mode. Remember, the human body wants to survive at all costs. It wants this more than anything. If you are starving yourself, your body will naturally learn how to hold on to as much fat as possible. You will lose weight initially, because of the extreme calorie deficit, but this will not last. As soon as you start eating enough food again your body will hold on to the food for dear life and store it as fat. It will think that it needs to do this, because it might not get enough calories again in the future.
Now that we have established that starving yourself is not the way to go, you may be wondering “Ok, but how am I going to lose weight without a calorie deficit?” This brings me on to the next point.
4. Eat a low fat diet
The fat you eat is the fat you wear, that is why it is called fat. Since I became fascinated with this topic, I have found it interesting to see how easy it is to gain and lose weight just by increasing or decreasing the amount of fat in my diet. I have even gone through periods where I was getting “too skinny”. An example of this was when I was bicycle touring through Europe. I was cycling a lot and eating an extremely low fat diet. By the time I reached the last country on my trip, Portugal, I was melting away! Fortunately for me, the Portuguese people love adding oil to just about everything! Oil is made up of 100% fat. By the time I left Portugal I was back to my normal weight. I had literally gained 4kg in a few weeks while cycling around 100km a day. The only thing I changed was the amount of fat in my diet. If you want to lose fat then eat less fat. If you want to gain fat then eat more fat. It is that simple.
Proponents of a diet HIGH in fat have made MILLIONS off promoting this diet. It seems like every year or two, a new weight loss “expert” comes out of the woodwork. They all preach exactly the same thing, but dress it up with a nice new name. You would have thought that this trend would have died, along with Robert Atkins. It was Atkins who kickstarted the HIGH fat diet hysteria in the 1970s. It did not matter that had a history of heart attack and congestive heart failure and that he weighed 258 pounds at his death bed, because to this day you can go to almost any book shop in the world and pick up a copy of the Atkins diet.
3. Eat enough carbohydrates
I know what you are thinking. “CARBS?! Carbs are for professional athletes who burn thousands of calories a day!” That is not strictly speaking true. I would also like to know from you, if you do not plan on eating carbohydrates, then what do you plan on eating? Fat? Protein? Those things are not going to help you lose weight and keep the weight off. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel. In fact, every single cell in the human body runs on carbohydrates.
When I was living in Asia, watching what people eat and talking to the locals was a big eye opener for me. In Thailand, the Thai people have traditionally eaten a diet that is very low in fat and high in carbohydrates such as rice, fruit and sugar. That is all changing. If you visit Thailand now you will find a number of fast food joints and not just in the bigger cities! Thai people are being taught to go against their natural roots. After all these centuries they are being told that carbohydrates, especially white rice, is the ENEMY. But guess what? It is not just their diet that is changing. What is also changing is their health. All of a sudden, you have Asian populations that are suffering from Western diseases at a rate never seen before. These include, amongst others, diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease. Is it by all possible, that the increase in western diseases is a result of adopting a more western way of eating?
I remember sitting around the dinner table with the Vietnamese family I was staying with in Vietnam. Just like the Thai people, the Vietnamese have traditionally eaten a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates. Just like the Thai people, white rice has been a staple of their diet for centuries. I was sitting around the dinner table with a Vietnamese family and on that night they had a guest over. He was an overweight, middle aged man (I am not having a go at him, I am just explaining the setting). He remarked on how much rice I was eating and said that his daughter, who is a doctor, says that white rice is bad and that is why he has stopped eating it! I just had to smile and say that I found it interesting. I could not be rude and there was no way in hell I was going to convince this guy that his daughter, who has a medical degree, is wrong. If I wanted to be blunt I would have told him that he is not fat from eating white rice and if he ate the same way his grandparents did then he would be as skinny as they were.
This is a great documentary to watch, especially if your time is limited!
This is a blog post, not a book. Therefore I am over simplifying everything. This really is the tip of the iceberg and if you want any more information, I recommend consulting any of the great resources I have linked to in this post. Most of them are from doctors, physicians and dietitians who are experts on this topic.
4. Drink a lot of water
I do not think there is anything controversial to be said about this section. It is common knowledge that you need to drink enough water. How much you need to drink will vary based on a number of factors, such as how active you are, how hot it is and how much you are eating, just to name a few. The best way to know if you are drinking enough water is to check your urine. Ideally, you want to make sure that you are peeing clear every 2-3 hours. It might be common knowledge that drinking a lot of water is a good idea, but the sad fact is that most people are chronically dehydrated and do not even know it! I never did, until a cycling coach pointed it out to me one day. I became OCD about drinking enough water and staying hydrated. Now drinking enough water is just a part of my lifestyle. If you see me you are most likely also seeing the bottle of water I am carrying around or have put some place near me.
A great habit you can get used to, is to drink a bottle of water as soon as you wake up. This is an incredibly healthy thing to do and will kickstart your body in the most natural way possible. It is far better than having a cup of coffee in the morning.
I drink a bottle of water, roughly 750ml, as soon as I wake up in the morning. It is a healthy habit I have gotten used to over the past few years. Then, I also drink a bottle of water before a big meal. A big reason why you will feel sluggish and tired after a big meal is because the meal will dehydrate you. This is especially true for cooked food. Having a bottle of water around 30 minutes to an hour before a big meal will go a long way to keeping you hydrated and energized after your meal. Not only that, it will also aid in the digestion of the food you are going to eat! The bottle of water I have when I wake up is the water I have before the first meal of the day, breakfast. So if I have one before breakfast, lunch and dinner then that already equals 2.25L of water without much effort. I find that to be a good minimum. I will drink a lot more than that during other parts of the day if I need to. I have done crazy 300km cycling rides where I have drunk up to 10L of water in a day. How much water you drink depends on many factors, but a bottle of water before every big meal is good, general advice.
5. Do daily cardio, such as running or cycling
Do not panic. You do not need to train like a professional athlete to lose weight or keep the weight off, especially during the holiday season. What I recommend, is that you find 30 minutes to an hour every day to do light cardio exercise. I actually think it is a bad idea to do a lot of high intensity exercise, especially if you have no exercise base you are building on. Instead, 30 minutes a day of light cardio is a good place to start. If you are not into running or if you have never run before, then cycling is the best option. The great thing about cycling is that it is very low impact on your knees and joints. Most runners get injured at one point or another and then they have to go weeks, or even months without running. I am all about sustainable exercise. What you do today, you need to be able to do for the rest of your life. That is why I always recommend cycling to anyone who wants to get fit, healthy and lose weight.
Running is great, but you need to build up your kilometers very slowly to try and avoid getting injured. Even then you will likely still get injured. If you are overweight, then do not even think about running. I know that a lot of fat people finish marathons every year, but the truth is that most of them will get injured and will be unable to train at some point during the year. Remember, I am not talking about pushing yourself to your physical limit here. What I am talking about is a sustainable exercise program you can use every day for the rest of your life.
Start out doing as much cycling as you can at an easy tempo. I call this tempo “talking pace” because it is so easy you would be able to talk to someone next to you. I have given the minimum of 30 minutes to an hour of cycling every day. If you can do more or if these figures sound like a joke to you, then by all means do more. Just do not ride that hard that you are permanently tired when you get on the bike. This will only lead to burn out later down the line. You want to make your exercise fun. There is a saying, if you make something fun you take care of motivation. I have found this to be true with anything I do in life, not just with exercise.
A great idea is to ride as much as you want every day of the week at an easy tempo and once a week ride as hard as you can up any climb in your neighborhood. Record your time up that climb and take note of that time. It will be a good reference point, so that you can see how much you improve in the months and years to come. A climb that is at least 2 minutes long or longer is perfect. There is a local climb in my neighborhood I use to test my fitness. In 2016 my time up there was 13:03, but now it is 7:49. Beating your personal best time up a climb can be great motivation! Just do not get despondent if on one day you can not beat your time. That happens too. Just shrug it off and give it a go again the following week.
If you do not own a bicycle I would strongly recommend that you buy one.
I wrote an article a week ago about how to buy a bicycle on the second-hand bike market. This will show you what to look out for when buying your first bike. A lot of the information here will also apply if you buy a bike that is brand new from your local bike shop.
My daily weight loss routine for the holidays and beyond
Make sure you eat a sufficient amount of calories. That number will vary day to day, but I good minimum is 3000 calories for men and 2500 calories for women. There are days that you will be more active than others and you will therefore need to eat more calories, do not be afraid of this. Make sure you get most of your calories from low fat, carbohydrate rich sources. Excellent staple foods include rice, potatoes, beans and calorie dense fruit such as bananas and dates. Vegetables do not have a lot of calories in them, but they are a great source of vitamins and minerals. I suggest adding vegetables to your stable foods. That way you get enough calories in during a meal but also enough nutrients. Be sure to drink a lot of water. Have a bottle of water when you wake up and a bottle of water before a big meal. Finally, do light daily cardio at “talking pace” for at least 30 minutes to an hour every day.
I hope this post makes sense. My biggest fear is always that what I am writing about goes over someone’s head, because I am not explaining it well enough. But like I said, I am not writing a book on this topic and do not plan on doing so anytime soon. Be sure to consult any of the external sources I referenced in this post if you want any more information on anything I have mentioned.